BAKER - As best friends go, Katie Wickery and Laurie Steele are typical.
Growing close as friends on Baker High’s volleyball team over the past few years, the two do a little bit of everything together. They talk constantly, work out together in the offseason, and starting next August, they will be teammates on the Lake Sumter State College volleyball team, when freshman Katie joins sophomore Laurie in Leesburg.
So when Wickery, now a senior at Baker, learned the she was the 2012 Daily News Small School Volleyball Player of the Year, the first thing she did was contact Steele, the 2011 winner.
“When I found out that I won, it was amazing,” said Wickery, who was chosen for the award due to her overwhelming stats and her role as a leader on Baker’s 24-3 squad that reached the Class 1A Final Four for the second-straight season. “The first thing I did was text Laurie and I said ‘Guess what?’
“She immediately knew what I was talking about. When she won last year, I was so happy for her. So when I found out that I won this year, I had to tell her.”
A year after watching her friend capture top honors around the Daily News coverage area, Wickery stepped into the spotlight with a monster senior season. Wickery’s award caps a career that included four of Baker’s 10 straight district championships and saw the senior hitter etch her name in Baker’s record books. As a senior, the 5-foot-8 Wickery led the area in several categories, including kills with 233 and aces with 68. She was also second on the team in assists with 144 and fifth in digs with 159.
In short, Wickery did a little bit of everything for a Gators’ squad that extended Baker’s playoff streak to 20 seasons.
“She was our go-to player,” said Baker head coach Tomikko Parks. “She’s a girl who has played a lot of volleyball and she uses that experience to her advantage. When she was out there, she’s like a coach on the floor for us. She knows where everybody is supposed to be, she knows what everybody is supposed to do. I could have lined her up anywhere and she could have gotten the job done.”
Wickery’s versatility was key to a Baker team that came within one match of playing for a state championship. An outside hitter by nature, Wickery also spent some time in the middle for the Gators. She also helped drive the offense with the 144 assists.
“She really helped facilitate our offense because she’s such a smart player,” said Parks. “She makes the smart play almost every single time.”
Smart plays shouldn’t be surprising from Wickery. An excellent student off the court, Wickery carries a 3.7 grade point average and currently ranks eighth academically in Baker’s senior class. After graduating this May, she already has plans in motion to head to Leesburg, where she’ll join her best friend in the world of college volleyball.
Described by her coach as a “self-made, self-motivated” player, it hasn’t always been easy for Wickery, but determination and a will to work has helped her become a complete player, one that proved to be indispensable for the Gators. A multi-sport athlete until her sophomore year, Wickery made a decision to drop basketball and focus on volleyball, a decision that has turned out well for both player and team.
“Once I started playing travel ball a few years ago, I realized how much I love the sport, so I decided to only play volleyball,” said Wickery. “We have a sand volleyball court at my house. I can’t get enough of it.”
While her love of the game is evident through her passion on the court, Wickery is also aware of volleyball’s power to help her achieve dreams away from the court.
“Of course, I want to play in the Olympics but I am realistic enough to know that probably won’t happen,” said Wickery. “Right now, I just know that I want to use volleyball to get my education and I know that I want to stay around the game as long as possible.
“I just love everything about it.”
PREP VOLLEYBALL AWARDS
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Katie Wickery, Baker
COACH OF THE YEAR
Tomikko Parks, Baker
Katie Wickery, Baker
Rachel Mosley, Rocky Bayou
Haley Wagner, Baker
Sierra Contreras, Walton
Katie Trejo, South Walton
Ashley Harper, Walton
Rafaela Ledo-Massey, South Walton
Alex Roy, Baker
Savannah Risen, Baker
Shalyn Bailey, Walton
Laura Hayhurst, Freeport
Kristen Bernheisel, Rocky Bayou
Jacey Geator, South Walton
Baker: Jordan Linzy, Hannah Wadsworth
Freeport: Kennedy Bates
Laurel Hill: Lauren Gordon, Ashley Hatfield
Rocky Bayou: Claire Gunter, Christy Allen
South Walton: Laura Andrews, Sarah McManus
Walton: Courtney Brown, Camri Thomas